Sunday, May 5, 2013

A Review of Ardi Gunawans’ first Indonesia solo exhibition: A Proposal For a Permanent Fixture at Ark Gallerie in Two Editions: Superlight

Ark Gallerie, Jakarta
March 30 – April 28, 2013

 In Ardi Gunawans’ first Indonesian solo show at Ark Gallerie in Jakarta we are presented with several unique but well traversed visual questions and deceptions concerning reality, authenticity and the economy of visual art.

Gunawans’ show ‘A Proposal For a Permanent Fixture at Ark Gallerie in Two Editions: Superlight’ is the second incarnation of an installation work that was first presented at Australia’s Gertrude Contemporary Art Space in 2009 where he held an artist studio from 2007 to 2009. He presented in that space an artwork that could be conceived as junk, a perplexing sculptural installation, which used planks of wood, old metal doweling and a bicycle. The bicycle acted as the nexus point for the whole sculpture by physically holding the construction together. The work itself questioned the architecture of the room and re-negotiated the dialogue between the negative and positive architectural elements of the space. The method and approach of this first installation at Gertrude Contemporary were repeated again in ‘A Proposal For a Permanent Fixture at Ark Gallerie in Two Editions: Superlight’.

On first viewing this new work is difficult to conceptually decode because it looks like a botched house renovation. On closer investigation we can see that there are two rooms that reflect one another in what looks like an attempt to mirror exactly what consists in each space, the intention was to construct twin installations. One in the existing gallery space and again in what was once the Ark Gallery storeroom. This storeroom space was knocked down and re-built to create a mirror image of the other ‘original’ interior.

What we are presented with are two spaces that both have a medium sized hole haphazardly cut into a wall large enough to accommodate a variety of objects such as a purple soft toy, wood doweling, an old painting frame and some left over plastic pieces. These objects have been arranged to look like they had been recklessly rammed into place, to the right is another construction of more soft toys, tables and a bookshelf arranged in an also precarious manner that assumes a danger of disintegration if even one object was to be pulled out. There is then another pentagonal shape cut into the wall that offers a considered and strategic view into the next room, which has almost exactly the same configuration.

The shape and method used to the cut the holes can be seen largely as homage to American sculpture Gordon Matta-Clark, which Gunawan admits has been an influence on his practice. Gordon Matt-Clark was interested in the idea of orphaned spaces, abandoned buildings and used urban materials as his main art form. Gunawans’ seemingly haphazard approach to cutting holes in the gallery walls and his heavy use of what looks like remnants of a demolished house can be evidence of Matta-Clarkes' influence and like Matta-Clarke, the work is commercially unviable. This installation is a work that clearly cannot be sold as easily as a painting or traditional sculpture unless to a collector that is quite willing to take risks. In an arts landscape dominated by commercial art sales, a large portion of artwork is often within these material parameters. ‘A Proposal For a Permanent Fixture at Ark Gallerie in Two Editions: Superlight’ is a critique of this commerciality by simply being a work that is difficult to commodify and moreover made entirely from junk materials, the collector is inevitably left with only concepts and ideas. Whilst this is hardly a new practice, particularly in Western art history, it makes an important statement in South East Asian, a region that is being touted as the next international arts centre.

Another main concept of this new work are ideas surrounding the hyper-real, which some could argue have become an intrinsic past of contemporary daily life, from the simulated malls of Dubai to the faux 1930’s housing estates such as the Disney owned ‘Celebration’, we are now often challenged with the idea of what constitutes originality. If the notion of originally indeed exists it was questioned at the opening of Gunawans’ show when he used identical twin girls as the hosts—identical twins being nature’s ultimate statement on the original and the fake. The presence of these twins also acted as a biological embodiment of what conceptually was occurring in the artwork. Twins are born with the same DNA but through social conditioning and separate individual experience often grow to look different from one another. ‘A Proposal For a Permanent Fixture at Ark Gallerie in Two Editions: Superlight’ there was clearly an original artwork from which the artist used as a blueprint but during the process of re-construction and the inadequacies of memory this second space became another work altogether and the people who came to view this show will never know which was the original and which was the fake.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Duto Hardono—Sound Artist Bandung

Duto Hardono is a young artist from Bandung who utilizes sound as a medium to explore ideas about the human condition. Using collage and looping techniques as metaphors he investigates human issues such as time and temporal spatiality.

He finished his masters at the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB) and has exhibited his work in Indonesia and abroad.

The Jakarta Globe caught up with Duto to find out more about the connection between sound and memory, how sound can be cut and pasted like photographs.

In your live performances you use collage techniques to play with sound. Is there a method to the selection of sounds, or is it more often random or improvised choices?

I use collage, especially in my visual arts practice, as a method to recreate what is representational into something more abstract.

There is a method that I use for each of the concepts in my compositions. I make a lot of field recordings abroad, but also in Indonesia, then I compile and select the sounds. I usually make short loops and add some sounds appropriated from old music cassette tapes. I then erase all the original recordings from those cassette tapes and record the new sounds of field recordings and found music onto those cassettes.

These tape loops are well prepared, studied and calculated, acting much like instruments — just like how you compose a musical score. But for the live performances it can often be more organic, but still improvising with these pre-prepared tape loops. It’s like creating layers from fragments of sound memories.

The looping of information seems to be a recurring theme in your music and also your visual arts work, such as ‘28 Days From Red to White,’ where you sent postcards to Japan every day for a month, or ‘How to Perform John Cage’s 4’33 on a Tape Loop Delay as Demonstrated by a Band of Cacti’ that was presented at the Shanghai Biennale. Why do you rely on looping so much?

In 2012 when I was doing my master’s degree at ITB, my main focus was on studying sound looping.

The idea of the loop to me is like a metaphor about our existence at this unique moment in time in the whole human narrative, where ideas from the past coalesce with the present and simultaneously bring forth a new and magnificent fractal reality.

It’s like a pattern in our daily lives where things are not linear but more like a great cycle closing in on itself.

In my ‘loop study’ solo show ‘Good Love, Bad Joke,’ which I presented at Selasar Sunaryo Gallery in Bandung, I exhibited three main loop pieces. They were ‘Loop Study No 1: Uber-Feedback,’ which was an installation resembling a recycling pattern about the concept of the accumulation of ideas using amplification and feedback; ‘Loop Study No 2: Memory Lane,’ which showed the degradation of ideas by using 16-millimeter film loops that self-destroyed over time as they played through the projector; and ‘Loop Study No 3: The Scream,’ which was a static loop using video that looped into itself continuously. Since then, these concepts have tended to recur in my other works.

You use a lot of analog sound equipment in your work like cassette tapes, vinyl records and quarter-inch tapes. Why use technology that will in time become obsolete in the digital era?

My work often talks about time and its relationship to humans and vice versa. Technological objects such as tapes and vinyl records are basically artifacts of the human narrative. Using them is a reference to an era and to a historical achievement of an idea. They are also objects of human nostalgia for a time past. These artifacts may well become obsolete but the ideas of a time are still present.

Tape technology itself is very fascinating — it’s not a perfect medium free of error, rather it is limited and very human. The cassette tape has two sides, in some ways just like humans.

How do your live sound performances differ from your sound installations?

My sound performances usually are the extensions of the sound installations. I use the sound installation as the ‘instrument’ during the performance. The installation is like a score, a musical note, a canvas. And when the performance is over, the installation will become a work separate to the performance but with traces of that performance left as an artifact.

But the actual performance is pretty different, I would say it is less restricted. It is the improvisation of the installation.

The performance itself is often unpredictable, which I like. It’s good to make mistakes — it invites things that will damage the original intent to expose a hidden intention. I think artists need to go beyond the canvas.

Your method of working could be seen as Western-centric. What would your response be to that?

[Laughs] You could blame ITB, maybe.

However, I see this as an aftermath of my personal background and my own references that take into account personal taste. It started long before I studied fine arts at ITB.

The references and experiences keep developing over time, a lot like the idea of the loop that I mentioned before: Everything is closing in but also connected.

For me, I think it matters if you are labeled Western/Eastern/Southern/Northern, as long as you don’t end up in a void. It’s nothing to be ashamed of and it’s my choice in the end.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Cemeti Art House—One Night Stand

Cemeti Art House is celebrating its 25-year anniversary this year, having opened its’ doors in 1988 it has hosted everyone from fledgling young Indonesian art students, local and international curators to big art stars. In the past quarter century this modest unassuming gallery space has provided a solid arts infrastructure to an arts community that has long suffered from a lack of government support and a shoddy arts education system. However it must also be acknowledged that because of this lack of support, it has to some extent assisted in the development of an interesting and resourceful art scene. If the system in Indonesia had actually provided a government art funded museum structure or decent art schools, it would have been highly unlikely that Cemeti Art House would have achieved creatively what it did, in terms of its freedom to experiment, to engage educationally a young generation of artists and to be independent from Indonesian government interference. The unique position that Cemeti Art House held in the early years as a anti-establishment gallery run by artists, Mella Jaarsma and Nindityo Adipurnomo, was also that they were able to fulfil a vision of what they themselves imagined contemporary Indonesia art could be, through the development of not only interesting visual arts programming but also educational residencies with an emphasis on the importance of visual art archiving (Indonesia Visual Arts Archive). Cemeti Art House through its 25 years of dedication and resilience has become one of the major backbones of the contemporary arts community in Indonesia today with many artists owing a debt to what they as an institution have provided.

One of the events of the 25-year celebratory program was One Night Stand both an exclusive insider art party and an improvised art show. Artists, by invitation only, were asked to present durational work, which would be presented for no longer than 1-2 hours. After which the work would then be taken down and replaced by new artwork by a different group of artists. Which meant that over a course of 8 hours, 4pm until 12 midnight, more than five different kinds of shows happened within the space. The event aside from two-dimensional work also included music performances, theatre art pieces, a puppet show and time-based sculptures. As with any artistic practice the community of artists, curators and collectors around the work also exerts a major influence on the way the art is created and to a larger extent on how it is perceived, without the strength of the community support in Indonesia, the artwork would most likely be not as interesting creatively nor successful in creating what many people from outside of Indonesia see as a ‘happening’ art hub. Over the 8 hours, intentional or not, the focus of the artistic experience of One Night Stand slowly shifted to the ‘theatre’ of that community, with the artwork on the walls serving as a theatrical backdrop and a point of access for this main event.

The One Night Stand invitation itself was also fairly vague causing some amount of confusion, with many of the guests contributing to the spectacle, by arriving in costumes—one guest in a leopard print zip up pyjama jumpsuit with bell boy style hat and another coming in a complete batman outfit with matching batman motorcycle and as the night progressed, the audience participation increased. One young artist lying in a corner of the gallery, unintentionally unconscious, became a living artwork, after a can of red paint and a paintbrush was brought out from the storeroom by several artists. The result of this piece was an interesting human installation with a neat red outline drawn along his silhouette, almost reminiscent of New York photographer Weegees’ grotesque images of murder. He was also moved around the gallery several times by different groups of people and placed in different yet interesting positions.

An art ‘happening’ in its’ Allan Kaprow 1960’s purist definition, the act of the separation blurring between the artworks, curators, artists and viewers became evident—with all sides organically, consciously or not, contributing to the overall experience of the spectacle. Whether that was the intention and projected outcome by the organisers of this event to illicit some kind of spontaneous response, was as unclear as the event invitation itself.

Edited version in the JAKARTA GLOBE
Sunday 17 February 2013

Friday, January 11, 2013


Angki Purbandono
Vivi Yip Art Room


Plant life in Indonesia and especially on the island of Java has been well documented though the colonial exploits of European explorers. These explorer ships would often have an artist on board to document and provide botanical archives for various uses. The artists were highly skilled and the drawings often contained important information in its detail in order to present to a European audience and also to the scientific community an accurate representation of what was seen to them as a strange new world. Indonesia having been colonised by the Dutch for over 300 years, mainly for the spice trade, plays a role, conscious or not in the minds of many people including the artists and continues to influence the artistic psyche and practical applications of their work, through what would be available historically and also conceptually.

The subject of Angki Purbandono’s new series OVALOVA presents botanicals found in new millennium Java and from within the walls of the ancient Kraton palace where he lives. These plants found in the surrounding area of Purbandono’s home were a variety of different botanical life ranging from medicinal herbs, flowers and vegetables to succulents. Even though it may not have been the main intention or conscious focus of Purbandono’s new series, aspects of these images provides information of what botanical life now exists in the area and by doing so act as a kind of archive of this old city. These found botanicals in Purbandono’s well known improvised scanographic style have been collaged together with various in-organic objects to create new surrealistic visual compositions presented in great detail through the framework or the ‘stage’ of the lightboxes or neon-box—the neon-box which has become synonymous with Purbandono’s long body of work.

This long body of work has over the course of many years finessed Purbandono’s working method, artistic process and compositional eye. Using improvisation as the key tool to the creation of these compositions, he has amassed a collection of found objects in his studio which he often choses from when scanning his photographs, these impulsive choices create images within a matter of minutes—he himself admitting that the arrangement of these found objects are often solely about aesthetics and beauty, with the concept being of secondary concern. But however conceptually light this work may seem it does not diminish the idea that over time these neon-box images will freeze and suspend the information of this era—not only the plant life but also the various objects—toys, crab claws, porcelain figurines will potentially cease being produced and cease existing in reality.

Purbandono consistent use of the neon-box as the basic structure of presenting his sconographies allows for the focus to shift to the more finer details of the ‘drama’ that occurs inside the frame and also the frame shape itself. For this series he has changed the frame shape using a nostalgic oval shape, which changes the compositional dimensions and makes an indirect reference to Indonesia’s colonial past. Oval frames were used in the early days of European photography, usually in portraiture and were imitating the framing shapes of traditional painting at the time when photography was still heavily influenced by the painting tradition. It was also reflecting the shape of the mirrors; the mirror reflecting back mankind with these oval frame shapes used mainly for depicting people rarely places.

Purbandono’s past work the archival series Anonymous—a collection of old photos depicting Indonesia and Indonesian life as early as 1920 has also influenced this particular work as many of the found photos, which include Dutch colonial Indonesia, used the oval frame shapes—having collected these images over a period of years, Purbandono was exposed to various types of early photography and wanted to experiment with this shape. The final presentation of the oval framed lightboxes will also include oval tables that will be used to present two of the neon box images—adding another dimension to the look of the show.

The oval shape lends a softer and more feminine feeling to the little narratives and dramas that are occurring in the framework of the neon box creating very compact and interesting visual compositional landscapes, compositional landscapes that respect the shape of the frame. The ‘drama’ within the frame of the neon-box is the coupling of organic with in-organic objects, man-made vs. nature, a re-occurring theme in Purbandono’s work. The relationship of the objects becoming the central focus and the surrealistic nature of the images enforced by the abyss-like black backdrop with the objects left floating in dark space. One of the many consequences of using the scanner directly as a photographic negative, the images are also rich with subtle yet sumptuous colours and detail. These details depict dolls hands with delicate leafy ferns, an Egyptian Tutankhamun floating in lily pads, a pair of dolls legs with an orchid flower for a head, two ceramic rabbits propping up vase, jasmine flowers suspending a deer in motion—collages of found object recycled into new objects.

This series OVALOVA cannot be viewed as a work on its own but must be seen within the context of this artist’s entire oeuvre to be fully understood. Through many years of using the neon-box the artistic issues have now come down to minute details of frame shapes, the information that is offered within the frame and the method or process of creating the work. Although the artists says that these images are purely about ‘what looks good’ in the moment, it can on closer inspection have a slightly deeper message about the era of art that we live in—an honest statement about what one aspect of visual practice itself may have developed into for the 21st Century or perhaps that some art must also include and reflect the tastes of an audience that appreciate and accept that art can sometimes be purely about beauty and aesthetics.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Others

Jim Allen Abel
Singapore Artstage
January 23-24 2013

The Others is the last in a trilogy of works by Indonesian artist Jim Allen Abel. This trilogy Board of Generals, Uniform_Code and now The Others, investigates the use of clothing or uniforms as a method of control by those that are seen to be in authority. It also looks at how these methods are used to create systems of power, to manipulate perceptions and to a further extent disempower and intimidate. 

This new work The Others now places its gaze on the ‘uniform’ that is worn by many women in countries throughout the Middle East, Southeast Asia and now in Abel’s own country of Indonesia. It’s a response to this form of body wear that often fully conceals a woman from head to toe in black cloth, which the artist believes is an effective way of rendering women non-existant in society and removes any traces of individuality. The artist responded to this belief by placing the hair (which is thought to be a sexual stimulant) on the outside and then used colorful luxurious materials as a replacement for the black clothing. 
Abel has in effect responded directly by creating images of women that represent the polar opposite of disempowerment or control. Images that send a message that these women are now impossible to ignore—that they indeed exist and exist in a way that is hyper-real. From the luminescent fluro colored wigs that are matched with equally over the top colored capes these images are a humorous and mesmerizing train wreck made all the more powerful by the use of the multiple.